A few years back, I spent some time studying Chinese medicine. Part of the curriculum was a history class in which each student had to give a presentation on a different healing modality and it’s history. One student did his presentation on chiropractic medicine, another did hers on ayurvedic medicine. I did a VERY fascinating lesson on homeopathy. And then, much to our delight, the very last presentation of the class started. We weren’t just happy because we no longer had to listen to boring student lectures… it was because the presentation was awesome. It was on the history of the vibrator.
Why, you might ask, was the vibrator part of a lesson on the history of various healing modalities? Well, because originally the vibrator was very much considered a medical device, not a sexual one. I don’t mean the vibrator was invented as a neck massager or something, and then later used as a sexual device. No. It was invented and used exactly as it is used today, it just wasn’t considered sexual. It was, in fact, a treatment for hysteria, which for hundreds of years was considered a very pernicious female ailment.
Hysteria was thought to be caused when a woman’s uterus left its proper place and started wandering freely throughout her body, and symptoms ranged from insomnia and fainting to a woman’s “tendency to cause trouble”. If a woman was nervous or behaved badly, she had hysteria. In the 1800’s it was thought that as many as ¼ of woman suffered from the condition. The treatment was for a doctor to administer a ‘pelvic massage’, which was the manual stimulation of a woman’s genitals. That’s right, fingering. Though this was a profitable treatment for doctors because the patients often needed regular treatments to keep the disorder in check, many physicians found the process annoyingly time consuming, as it often took a long time for the treatment to work. And so doctors began looking for ways to cut down the time it took to treat each patient. Wow, some things never change.
Various things were tried, but eventually the very first vibrator was born. And though we now know that the uterus isn’t a free-floating wander of an organ, I think it is hysterical that the device that has brought pleasure to countless women was invented by a bunch of dudes who could no longer be bothered to lift a finger to come to the aid of the ladies.
Check out the trailer for the upcoming film Hysterical about this very subject. Happy Friday!